Srabanti Chakrabarti in Mumbai
He's ethnically Chinese, but hopes to sing Hindi songs for a living. He's only been on television for a year, yet already he's hosting reality shows.
And, now, he's all set to make his Hindi film debut, under one of Bollywood's biggest banners: Yash Raj films.
Meet Meiyang Chang, the shy Indian Idol participant who quickly became an Indian Idol host, then an IPL host and now an actor.
Badmaash Company, starring Chang, is directed by veteran actor and first-time director Parmeet Sethi, and is scheduled for release later this week. For Chang, it's a dream come true, as he appears alongside Shahid Kapoor, Vir Das and Anushka Sharma.
In an exclusive interview with rediff.com, Chang walks us through his role in Badmaash Company, while also sharing his future dreams and past realities.
The obvious question first: Were you born and brought up in India?
[Smiles] Yes! I am from the third generation of a Chinese family that has been settled in India for many, many decades. My forefathers are from China and shifted to India before independence. I was born and brought up in Jharkhand.
'I have studied dentistry and am a qualified doctor'
Tell us something about your family.
We are a family of dentists and have a business in dental care. All male members of our family are dentists, while the ladies are mostly beauticians! Most of them are settled in Kolkata and have their own clinics and parlours.
I have also studied dentistry and am a qualified doctor. I was in Bangalore, and after finishing my degree was planning to go to the US for higher studies. That is when the Indian Idol auditions were announced, and I decided to participate.
All of you know what happened after that. Somehow everything fell in place and I was lucky enough to get good breaks in singing, hosting and now acting.
How did a dentist get the inspiration to sing?
I am not a trained singer. I like music and this is something I got from my father. He was my first inspiration. He used to sing a lot of songs of Talat Aziz, Ghulam Ali and Jagjeet Singh. He was the one who introduced me to music.
Did you want to be a singer when you were a kid?
[Laughs] When you are a kid you have many dreams, and I was no exception. I wanted to be a teacher and an astronaut.
I also used to do lot of sketches and wanted to become a cartoonist. But since there was not much encouragement on that front, I stopped drawing.
But when I was standing at a crucial juncture to decide my career, my Dad helped me and asked me to step into the family business. After that, all of a sudden, in a split-second decision I became a singer. Though I am doing Badmaash Company as an actor, I dream of becoming a playback singer.
'Like most north-eastern guys who stay in Mumbai, Zing also faces an identity crisis'
How did you get the offer to appear in Badmaash Company?
Apparently, when director Parmeet Sethi was writing the character Zing he had me in his mind, after he spotted me in Indian Idol as a participant and then as a host. I guess my appearance and the unusual look I have made me ideal for the role. That is how Badmaash Company happened for me.
How was your experience of working with Parmeet?
It was great: He gave us full freedom to do things the way we wanted. There was no pressure from Aditya Chopra or Yash Raj, and they also gave complete independence to Parmeet.
He always wanted us to give something special to ours character, and to ensure that the four key characters are not the same. We have tried our best to meet his expectations.
Would you tell us something about your character.
I am playing the role of a guy from Sikkim called Zing. His father was in the Indian Army, and through a posting of his, Zing comes to Mumbai. Like most north-eastern guys who stay in Mumbai for a long time, Zing also faces an identity crisis. People think he is from Nepal, Japan or from some other country. And his friends make fun of him. He is unperturbed and is very close to his friends and can do anything for them.
So when Karan (Shahid Kapoor) hatches a special plan, Zing supports him wholeheartedly.
What is the plan?
They are all very intelligent plans and most of them related to events in the last 15 years! I cannot disclose anything else. You have to watch the movie.
'Most people refuse to believe that I am an Indian'
Didn't Parmeet ask you to sing in the film?
I am sure we understand that Parmeet cannot dictate everything. This is a Yash Raj Films production and I am immensely proud to be a part of this movie. It is an author-backed role and a big one. The fact that he thought of me for the role is a big achievement in itself. Today I am getting a chance to act. It may be singing next time!
Have you ever faced the problems Zing or other north-eastern guys have to face?
Professionally, never. But in my personal life -- yes. Most people refuse to believe that I am an Indian! When I participated in Indian Idol 3, I thought I would be out within a few episodes. I thought no one would vote for me. But I was mistaken -- not only did people vote for me, they kept me in the show till the end.
So, it would be wrong to say that people have not given me my due because I am of Chinese origin.
Now that you have done a film with Yash Raj, are you getting more offers?
Not really! As of now, I have not received any other (film) offer, though I've received loads of television offers. It may be that once the film is released and people see my performance, I will get some offers.
As you mentioned, you are not a trained actor. How was the experience to be amidst professional and trained actors?
I must admit that the whole group was very focussed. Shahid believes in details and is very particular about small things. Vir has come from a completely different background and Anushka is a bubbly and natural actress. So it was a coming together of people from varied backgrounds. I learned a lot by observing them, but also maintained my individuality because the role demanded so.
There is a negative side to all characters in Badmaash Company. None of us are the typical protagonists you see in a movie. For me, this is a change because people have this image of Chang being a 'good boy'
'I am allergic to alcohol... So acting like I was drunk was quite tough'
Any memorable experience from the film you want to share?
There is one scene in the movie where I had to show anger and behave like a drunk. In real life, I have fights with my girlfriend. So it was quite natural and I did not have to act much. But in real life I am allergic to alcohol. If I take extra doses of alcohol, it can be fatal. So acting like I was drunk was quite tough. But I took some inputs from the way my friends used to behave when I was studying in Bangalore -- the extreme madness, happiness, sorrow and stupidity. And that is how I did the scene.
Now that you have mentioned your girlfriend, tell us more about her!
She is also from the Indian Idol Season 2. Her name is Monali Thakur. I met her during my stint as an anchor in Kolkata for Indian Idol 4.
It was a normal meeting; definitely not love at first sight. But I respected her a lot and personally believed that, after Sunidhi Chauhan and Shreya Ghosal, she has tremendous potential to become a good playback singer.
We have been seeing each other for one year now. As we are from the same industry, we understand each other very well. If we are not talking to each other for a long time, we know that our busy schedules are responsible for it. And there is also a certain happiness and disappointment that you can't share with your parents; but when you have someone from the same field, you can provide one another moral support. Both of us are very ambitious and thus marriage can wait for a few years.
What did you learn from Indian Idol?
I think I have learned a lot from Indian Idol. If you have the talent, this is the platform to showcase it. I feel we should grab every opportunity that comes our way.
But you have to be very level-headed, and, if you have not achieved anything, don't blame the platform. It can take time some time. This is a very volatile industry, and you must stay grounded.
There are many people waiting behind you in the queue, so one bad step can ruin your career. If you are good to people, people will be good to you.